In This Article Translation

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Metaphor of Colonialism and Conquest
  • Interlingual Writing
  • Multilingual Societies
  • Reassessment of Choices
  • Metacritical Self-Reflections
  • Critical Commentary on Latino Literature
  • Postcolonial Power and Empire

Latino Studies Translation
Marta E. Sánchez
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 March 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0025


Translation is a cultural mediation involving, most commonly, two different national languages. This description, however, does not entirely fit with translation in the context of Latino studies. This is because the language and literature of Latino studies serve as an ethnic, expressive medium of US multilingual society informed by the history and culture of the Spanish-language countries of Latin America, the Caribbean, and Central America. Since the mid-20th century, English has been the primary linguistic register of the cultural groups included in what became Latino studies in the 1980s, but the Spanish language has been an integral component of the history of these groups at least since the early 19th century. Long before the 1990s, when numerous Latino imaginative narratives in English appeared in Spanish translation (with a lesser number translated from Spanish to English), for consumption both outside and inside the United States, the first generation of Mexican Americans developed practices of translation and interpretation in a networked society of English and Spanish. This earliest and, in the early 21st century, most numerous of US Latino populations lived in two languages, meaning they had to come to terms on a daily basis with a cultural history different from their own and establish lines of contact with it. Living in a region that became part of the United States in 1848, they wrote in Spanish, and some of these texts remained untranslated until the late 20th century. Throughout the 20th century, particularly the latter half, movements of people from Mexico and South, Central, and Caribbean America have made Spanish the largest, most sustained of all non-English US languages, and the United States, among the top five Spanish-speaking nations in the world. These migrations have reinforced the need for translation and interpretation in real-world settings. Although translators and interpreters in Latino communities negotiate multilingual meaning every day in pragmatic situations of law, medicine, politics, diplomacy, public health, and education, little work has been done to develop translation as a field of scholarly inquiry. The entries that follow constitute a preliminary attempt toward this end. Chosen primarily from the expressive realms of language and literature, including some primary texts in both English and Spanish and the translational crossings between them, these texts offer several entry points into a body of imaginative and critical work that will lead to interpretive frameworks and diverse methodological approaches to translation.

General Overviews

Translation studies emerged as a strong discipline in US colleges and universities beginning in the 1980s, but academic ties between it and Latino studies are barely beginning to develop in the early 21st century. This is true despite the cultural turn taken by translation studies in the 1990s into disciplines beyond its usual scholarly “homes” of linguistics and literary studies. This turn was not wide enough to include Latino literature, perhaps because mainstream translation scholars do not generally study Latino literature, and Latino literary scholars have not studied translation in a sustained way. Notwithstanding this gap, a few general sources from the translation studies canon are indispensable for scholars wishing to familiarize themselves with basic principles and practices of translation. The seminal essay Benjamin 1969, probably the most invoked, reinterpreted, and anthologized piece, is especially important for articulating the translator’s task—to bring the reader of the target language closer to the foreign text, rather than making the foreign text “read as if it had originally been written in [the target] language” (p. 79). Unlike Walter Benjamin, who wrote in a German cultural tradition, Roman Jakobson, a structural linguist, emphasized the communicative aspects of translation (“two equivalent meanings in two different codes,” p. 233), outlining three types: the transference of verbal signs from one language to another or within the same language or of one language to a nonverbal sign system (e.g., a novel into a film) rather than a process in which the receptor language transforms the source language (Jakobson 1959). Chamberlain 1992 reshapes traditional paradigms of translation by including gender, a social category that is central in the history of Latino studies. Venuti 2008, written by an influential contemporary scholar of translation, challenges the long-standing criteria of fluency, intelligibility, and originality that have characterized translation theory and practices in Western European (except German) and Anglo-American traditions. The collection Venuti 2012 represents a variety of critical approaches to translation in the 20th century, particularly since the 1980s. Sherry Simon’s work on the translation of French Quebec literature into English offers the possibility of a comparative dimension between translating French into Canadian English and translating Spanish into English in the United States (Simon 1992). Both French and Spanish are second languages in their respective countries. Following Venuti 2008, Kirsten Silva Gruesz highlights the need to include translation in the list of keywords for American studies, a list relevant to Latino studies (Gruesz 2004). The 2010 issue of Profession includes essays by contemporary critics, chosen from the Presidential Forum of the 2009 Modern Language Association annual convention, the central theme of which was translation.

  • Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections. Translated by Harry Zohn. Edited by Hannah Arendt, 69–82. New York: Schocken, 1969.

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    Translation is responsible for the afterlife of an original; vestiges of the translated language should overtly mark the translating language. The task of the translator of German, for example, should not be to turn Hindi, Greek, or English into German but German into Hindi, Greek, or English. English translation of essay originally published in 1923.

  • Chamberlain, Lori. “Gender and the Metaphorics of Translation.” In Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology. Edited by Lawrence Venuti, 57–74. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    Indispensable article for understanding the role gender has played in the history of translation and translation theory. Powerfully exposes social, historical, and ideological biases against women writers and translators, beginning in the 16th and 17th centuries, in the struggle for authority and social control of text.

  • Gruesz, Kirsten Silva. “Translation: A Key(word) into the Language of America(nists).” American Literary History 16.1 (2004): 85–92.

    DOI: 10.1093/ALH/AJH004E-mail Citation »

    Initiates discussion for linking translation to four key terms in American studies: nation, empire, conflict, and the popular. These terms also represent major categories employed in Latino studies. In the final pages, links translation to bilingualism in Chicano literature. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Jakobson, Roman. “On Linguistic Aspects of Translation.” In On Translation. Edited by R. A. Brower, 232–239. Harvard Studies in Comparative Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959.

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    Frequently cited for its outline of three types of translation: intralingual (rewording in the same language), interlingual (interpretation of one set of linguistic signs by means of those from a different language), and intersemiotic (interpretation of verbal signs “by means of signs of nonverbal sign systems” [p. 114]). Reprinted in Venuti 2012.

  • Profession (2010).

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    First section consists of twelve thought-provoking essays on the theory, teaching, and tasks of translation and its implications for the humanities.

  • Simon, Sherry. “The Language of Cultural Difference: Figures of Alterity in Canadian Translation.” In Rethinking Translation: Discourse, Subjectivity, Ideology. Edited by Lawrence Venuti, 159–176. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

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    Scholarly article on cultural difference and translation. One postulate is that translation does not carry the same meaning for English Canada as for Quebec; the first, historically, has emphasized mutual understanding between peoples of Canada, whereas the second stresses integrity of French over the colonizing language. Presents analyses of 20th-century translations from French to English.

  • Venuti, Lawrence. The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2008.

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    Forcefully exposes the contradictory norm of translation as transparent (sound original), yet derivative and secondary to the original. Contradiction leads to the translator’s invisibility, presumably needed to produce an illusory effect of fluency. Uncovers two strategies: “domesticating” translation reinforces the translator’s invisibility; “foreignizing” translation reveals the translator’s language to the target culture. The second method is more productive.

  • Venuti, Lawrence, ed. Translation Studies Reader. 3d ed. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    A useful collection of key essays discussing different approaches to translation and “rethinkings” about it, spanning the 20th century, up to the 1990s.

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